There is a homeless ain’t hopeless, but it’s pretty darn close – Key West and beyond post today at goodmorningfloridakeys.com. Meanwhile …
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Yesterday’s guest editorial in The Key West Citizen:
No doubt this paper’s readers continue to ask themselves if the School District will ever get its act together. Acevedos, too-tall HOB, unsuitable soils, change orders, furlough days, bullies, CPAs (or not), fraudulent fraud hotlines, alien computer hackers — the unforced errors seem to maintain a steady pace. But then look at the city of Key West, the county, the Aqueduct Authority, city of Marathon, village of Islamorada — let’s not even talk about Tallahassee or Washington. Everywhere youlook, our public institutions are having difficulty meeting the expectations of the electorate. Is it all as bad as it seems, and getting worse? Maybe.
But I’d also argue that the rapid advance of technology has enabled our electorate to comment and criticize at a fiery pace that is blindsiding our slow-moving bureaucracies. Rather than adapting to meet these changing expectations, many government agencies are sticking their heads in the sand, hoping to sit out this evolutionary phase of our democratic process. This approach is a mistake, and only provides fuel for the no-government-is-good-government mindset.
Good government is responsive and requires prudent allocation of resources that have high probability of creating public value in the most efficient manner — much easier said than done. Sophisticated resource allocation is precluded by goal-setting, capacity and gap analysis, project management, regular measurement and review, accountability and clear communications. In short, you gotta have a plan before your spend your money. And, you better have a great plan before you spend taxpayers’ money.
So the School District needs a plan. Fortunately, that planning process begins next month with a series of town hall meetings to garner public input to determine priorities and solicit much needed public participation in the planning process. You can imagine the varied list of school priorities, depending on the stakeholders questioned: lower property taxes, employee raises, more for charter schools, less for charter schools, renewed focus on baseball, more money for art programs, improved school lunches, solar panels on the roofs. The list is long, and we will never please everyone. A successful plan requires real compromise. But there are three areas that are requisite to pull this School District out of the ditch and away from the negative headlines: an administrative performance structure, modern accounting software and a professional information officer.
An administrative performance management and accountability system will level the playing field. It won’t matter where you’re from, who you know, or how long you’ve been employed. The superintendent, department heads, and principals will have clear annual goals to achieve. These goals will be doable; we want our people to succeed. These goals will be transparent and placed on the Internet for all to see. If the annual goals are not achieved, corrective action will be taken. If goals are not achieved two years in a row, someone else gets a shot at the job. No more us versus them. No more reactive management. Now we have a plan.
The district’s accounting software runs on a monochrome command prompt interface. The software was developed back in the days of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” It takes over a week to run a report to determine how much money we have in the bank. We need to boldly enter the 21st century, and purchase a new accounting package. We should account for every penny by 2 p.m. each day.
The general public really has no idea how our schools are doing. For the most part, Monroe County schools are excellent. We have terrific teachers and staff who are working very hard despite several years of real earnings decreases, and our students are excelling. Ranked eighth out of 67 counties in Florida, we are sending graduates to Duke, Brown, the Naval Academy and NYU, and we have the most successful Take Stock in Children Program in all of Florida. Can we do even better? Yes, and we will.
But most of the stories making the papers reflect administrative gaffes, or Internet-driven conspiracies by the usual quacks and goofs. We are oneof the largest organizations in Monroe County, yet one of the very few that doesn’t have a public information officer. Even the Mosquito Control board has a public information person — and that’s a good thing. Our teachers and staff are often the last to know when changes are occurring. The School District needs a professional to manage its internal and external communications. We need to communicate our intentions, and we need to communicate our challenges. Silence is not a productive option.
Finally, property owners have too long borne the burden of financing our schools; 2013 will likely see the School District go to referendum to raise the sales tax by a halfcent to shift a portion of the financial burden from property owners to tourists, from whom the majority of sales tax is derived. This tax change will benefit both our students as well as our property owners. Just don’t count my vote until we have real plan in place.
Robin Smith-Martin represents
District 1 on the Monroe
County School Board.
Larry Murray copied me with his response to Robin’s editorial, which Larry sent to the School Board and Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter:
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2013 09:03:45 -0800
Subject: Sales Tax Increase?
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; John.Dick@KeysSchools.com; email@example.com
I gather from Robin Smith-Martin’s op-ed piece in today’s Citizen that you plan a referendum on increasing the sales tax in Monroe County from 7.5% to 8%. I thought it an interesting venue to learn of your plans. When do you intend to roll out your campaign for such a sales tax increase?
It will be interesting to see how the voters respond to such an increase, particularly we of the “usual quacks and goofs”, those who have the temerity to question actions by the School District. I should think that the Board would want as much community support as possible for such an initiative. However, to launch such while gratuitously offending some people strikes me as an odd way to rally the electorate.
Mr. Smith-Martin seems to be on a campaign to offend as many people as he can, including fellow members of the Board. At least this time, Mr. Smith-Martin omitted the “f-bombs” that he has used in other criticisms of those who do not agree with him.
Dr. Larry Murray
Fiscal Watchdog and Citizen Advocate
I replied to Larry, with copy to All -
Hard for this quack goofball to imagine how a school tax increase of any kind will not thoroughly P O the public, but perhaps the property owners will get behind it, if they get a property tax decrease.
Personally, this quack and goofball thinks the public he knows, present company excluded, would be delighted to see some f and related words thrown around by school board members and school administration honchos, to show us they really are human, they really are upset, and they really do see the gravity of the situation, in spades. But then, that might thoroughly P O the church-folks, unless they thought their churches might somehow get some of the sales tax increase.
Ed Davidson, Andy Griffiths and this quack and goofball agreed at candidate forums last year, that teacher morale was the biggest problem in the School District. This quack and goofball told those candidate forum audiences that the only way to fix the low teacher morale problem was a school tax increase. This quack and goofball was the only school board candidate last year, out of nine candidates, including you, Larry, who clamored for a school tax increase last year, not this year, not next year.
As this quack and goofball recalls, Larry, you and your fellow Audit & Finance Committee member Stuart Kessler, and our esteemed School Board member Robin Smith-Martin, clamored for voters to reject the extension of the .5 mil tax for school operations, so they could get a school tax decrease. After that referendum pass by a heavy margin early last year, and that wampum was safely tucked away again in the School District coin purse, this quack and goofball started clamoring for another tax increase, because you, Larry, and Stuart Kessler and the School District en masse, and the teachers union had 100 percent convinced this quack goofball the School District could not make ends meet and also fix the low teacher morale problem without a school tax increase.
This quack and goofball agrees with our esteemed School Board member Robin Smith-Martin, that the School District’s accounting software needed upgrading several year ago. But this quack and goofball wonders why the esteemed Robin-Smith Martin forgot to mention 500 Ed Options online make up courses being used at Key West High School last year, and the widely known fact that Keys high school graduates do not tend to go off to the esteemed places of high learning named by the esteemed Robin Smith-Martin, but instead tend to go off to less esteemed places of higher learning, and many of them are put into remedial courses, even when they attend community colleges, including Florida Keys Community College.
The esteemed Robin Smith-Martin also conveniently left out the high drop out rate in Keys schools, from K-12, and the high attrition rate Keys high school graduates demonstrate in places of higher learning. The esteemed Robin Smith-Martin also conveniently left out, when he targeted this quack and goofball, the blogger, that he had emailed this quack goofball that he and this quack goofball ought to get together and discuss the “calculus” of trade school/vocational ed in Keys schools, which is sorely lacking, even though the School District’s twin vision is to have high school graduates college and/or career ready.
If this quack goofball had to wager a heap of wampum, the bet would be that only twenty percent of Keys high school graduates should go off to places of higher learning, and the rest of them should be career ready and going to work after they graduate. This quack goofball wagers the same heap or wampum, that if the School District ignored the FCAT and other standardized higher learning places-geared tests, and focused on teaching students life and career skills, the taxpayers would be delighted to pass a new school tax. This quack goofball also wrote plenty about that last year, and said plenty about it at candidate forums, too.
I bet if the School Board had hired the truly esteemed Dr. Ed Shine last year, to be the new Superintendent, the not really all that esteemed Robin Smith-Martin would be a lot happier with how things are going in the School District, as would most other Keys people. Dr. Shine told the School Board during his in the bright sunshine vetting at Marathon High School, which I attended, that they needed to generate more revenues (tax increase) to solve the low teacher morale and fiscal problems they kept saying he would magically have to solve if they hired him. The only Superintendent candidate who told them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and whose superintendent credentials/experience dwarfed the other candidates’ credentials/experiences was not hired. Looked pretty darn quack goofball to me.
Later, Larry sent this:
I have submitted this to the Citizen for publication. I gather that you were not especially enamored by Smith-Martin’s observations about quacks and goofs.
To: “Editor@keysnews.com” <Editor@keysnews.com>
Cc: Tom Tuell <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Terry Schmida <email@example.com>; Terry Schmida2 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, February 25, 2013 4:08 PM
Subject: Profanity From The Heart
Robin Smith-Martin appears to be on a campaign to offend as many people as possible while simultaneously preparing the public for a School Board sponsored referendum to increase the sales tax. Odd behavior I should think.
Mr. Smith-Martin’s latest slur appears in a guest editorial in your paper. In it, he referrs condescendingly to critics of School Board and District behavior as the “usual quacks and goofs.” As the person most responsible for the revelation that the District Hotline had been corrupted, I assume that he includes me in that category. Fortunately, I am not alone and wear his criticism as a badge of honor.
In the last month, Mr. Smith-Martin has gratuitously offended many. His thoughtless and callous remarks about the tragic suicide of a student led to a public apology, his third such apology since being elected two years ago. How many other Board members have had to make public apologies after engaging their mouths before their brains?
Mr. Smith-Martin then launched a two installment attack on a local blogger with whom he disagreed. That diatribe was liberally laced with
“F-bombs” which I doubt you would print. He then apologized to the blogger and his readers, noting that his profanity “came from the heart”!
Were that not enough, at the last Board meeting, Mr. Smith-Martin went out of his way to insult two fellow Board members. He lambasted John Dick and Ed Davidson “for making this stuff up in your own brains”, characterizing their pursuit of an issue as “a waste of time.” “This is all speculation but this is what’s going to be on the front page of the newspaper.”
When a teacher wrote Mr. Smith-Martin and the Board about her concerns that the District might be spying on faculty via their computers, he turned on her with a vengeance. He directed her to “leave the political acrimony” to her husband as he touted his own self-sacrifice. He then accused her of “pressuring Board members to make speculative and conspiratorial comments.”
I believe that Mr. Smith-Martin is clearly out of control and needs to be reined in. I recommend that the School Board censure Mr. Smith-Martin for “conduct unbecoming to a member of the Monroe County School Board.”
To which I replied:
Hi again, Larry -
Actually, Robin did an excellent job of conveniently overlooking what I saw and published when he ran for the School Board, and he continued to demonstrate thereafter: he is a quack and a goofball. Unfortunately, I came to share the same view of Andy Griffiths and John Dick. When Ed Davidson was elected last fall, to replace Duncan Matthewson, I hoped Ed would not join that fraternity, but he flat out did join it after Matthew Gilleran killed himself and Ed tucked and ran as fast and as well as his confederates and Mark Porter. As did Ron Martin join that fraternity, after he stood silent in the wake of Matthew’s suicide. The wicked karma that wagon circling created for the school system rendered Robin Smith-Martin’s personality gaffes down to a molecule compared to the Sun.
I don’t know what has you so wound up about Robin cussing me in an email from him just to me. It would have been okay, if he had used his personal email account, instead of his school board member email account? That email from Robin, which I reproduced in the blackboard jungle voodoo in Key West mostly post, was the first thing ever from a school official, which made me burst out laughing, and on a day when I needed to burst out laughing. If Robin had had the good sense to leave it lay there, which was complimenting me for the rising tide – standing in front of bulldozers and other aggressive ways of actively saving the environment – Florida Keys and beyond post, wherein I explained how the Keys would be far better off environmentally, if all human beings were erased from the premises, instead of then going after me for everything else I ever did, his email would have been a work of art. It was morphed into a work of art anyway, but not one Robin cared for, I don’t imagine.
For me, Robin represents a quack and goofball electorate, who put Robin on the School Board in the first place. I would lay into that electorate, also, if I wrote a letter to the editor about Robin. However, that is a molecule compared to a sun the entire School District inversely is not. I said and wrote over and over last year that the School District is terminally dysfunctionally insane, and I meant it. There is nothing that can be done about a terminally dysfunctionally insane system but leave it and start a new system. I wrote and said over and over again last year that the only hope, not a guarantee, but a hope, was for each school to vote itself to be a charter school, and in that way liberate itself from Trumbo Point, which is the twisted tree from which all the poison apples for the teachers and students fall, if you disregard the electorate. That still is my prescription.
I really do hope the School District will get itself a “public information officer”. Euphemism for spin doctor, white-washer, misinformation specialist, whore.
So much more fodder for my ravings that would provide.
After posting that very early this morning, I went back to bed and to sleep. On waking, I found a gem in The Key West Citizen, for the School District’s spin doctors to field, and sent it, with this email, to the quacks and goofballs running your terminally dysfunctionally insane school district:
sloan bashinsky (email@example.com)
To: Larry Murray, Capt. Ed Davidson, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, John Dick, Andy Griffiths Cc: Mark Porter
Below is today’s article in The Key West Citizen on the recent state external audit.
Maybe if you had listened to Larry Murray and the Audit & Finance Committee, it would have turned out differently.
Good luck, getting a sales tax increase next this year, or even next year, as per Robin’s guest editorial yesterday.
I knew and wrote and said many times that the reserve fund balance was intentionally being understated, and that the only way to fix that was for the Board of Education to take over the school district and install its own school board and superintendent.
Audit reveals school district bond default
BY TERRY SCHMIDA Citizen Staff
The School District was in technical default of its $36 million construction bond for 267 days last year, according to the preliminary audit of fiscal year 2012, released Wednesday by the Florida Auditor General.
The finding was among 13 made by the AG in its annual audit, to which Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter must respond within 30 day of publication. An additional five findings involved state audits of the district’s use of federal dollars. Six of the 18 total findings have been festering for at least three years.
“This is simply stunning,” said District 3 Board member Ed Davidson, who has been a consistent critic of district financial dealings since before his election victory last fall. “We were in default for nine months on a $36 million dollar bond. This was concealed from the School Board. Nobody in the district has the authority to keep something like this from the board. They had a legal, moral, ethical and fiduciary responsibility to inform the board, and instead, all parties involved concealed this.”
In addition to the bond matter, the AG identified one finding it deemed a “significant deficiency.”
Finding No. 1 in the audit report states that, “Financial reporting procedures could be improved to ensure that transactions and note disclosures are properly reported.”
The audit also found that the district had lowballed its financial obligations, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, another serious issue that Davidson intends to bring up at today’s board meeting.
“The actual financial problems are much worse than the summary findings indicate,” Davidson continued. “I have said repeatedly that in business, once you owe somebody money, it goes on your books as a contingent liability. But the school district is allowed not to show the $1,901,332 deficit in Workman’s Compensation reserves, mentioned in finding No. 6, or the deficit of roughly $1 million in our health insurance reserves, in finding No. 2. And then there’s the $652,360 in misspent federal awards that we could be required to refund. We’re broke and we need to fess up. You can’t fix the problem until you admit how bad it really is.”
District 5 board member John Dick was equally outraged at the report.
“I think we’ve been getting poor audits for far too long,” Dick said. “It calls for some reaction from the School District. While this one doesn’t have quite as many findings as some of the others, It’s still unacceptable. I think that when we got last year’s report I was quoted as saying that heads should roll, however I’m just a board member, so there’s only so much I can do. We really need to have some wholesale changes.”
School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths was of two minds regarding the report.
“My macro opinion says only one significant finding, and 10 findings where the recommendation starts out with ‘enhance their procedures,’ Griffiths said. “We have the procedures and policies in place. However, they need to be enhanced. Having said that, nothing I say can counter this report. No one can say it’s a good audit. We can debate some of these issues, but we have a long way to go before we can claim to have world-class financial reporting.”
On Monday evening, Superintendent Porter called the number of findings in the report “disappointing,” but pointed out progress had been made in some areas.
“If you look at it in a historical context, you will see some evidence of improvement in our fiscal management over time,” Porter said. “This year we have zero material weaknesses, which is a harsher category of finding than significant deficiency. Historically, there was a time when the district had several, back in a time we’re all trying to forget. I see improvement, but honestly, I also see room for improvement.”
Pressed about finding No. 4, dealing with the bond payment, Porter stated that the district had received an incorrect invoice from the issuing bank, for which a letter of apology was later sent to the district.
“It was a contributing factor, but I wouldn’t want to use it as an excuse,” he said. “Since then, we have implemented corrective action in the form of a more proactive procedure to determine not only what we are billed, but what we actually owe.”
At today’s board meeting, Porter said, he’ll be discussing some of the issues raised by the report, before allowing the Audit and Finance Committee to review the report. Then, the findings will be discussed at the March 11 board meeting. At that point, a response to the AG will be prepared.
“I want us to respect the role of the Audit and Finance Committee in all of this,” Porter said. “That’s why we’re going forward in this sequence.”